Exhibition launch of STEP Through the Looking Glass: Stories Told of Experimental Processes


This multimedia exhibition entitled STEP Through the Looking Glass: Stories Told of Experimental Processes launched on Saturday, 06 August 2002 in Grennan Mill Craft School, as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival and the 40 Mill Years celebration.

The exhibition uses selected personal and scientific objects as unique and curious ways to spark a conversation and telling a science story. It is a collaboration between Lorna Donlon, scientists in University College Dublin (UCD) and patient advocates who work with them.

Lorna Donlon was a student in Grennan Mill Craft School in 1984 and subsequently taught weaving there for 12 years. She is an award-winning artist and tapestry weaver who undertook an artistic residency in the UCD Conway Institute during the pandemic, having recently graduated with a degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from UCD’s School of Biology and Environmental Science.

The idea for this project stems from ‘Scientists’ Stories from the Conway Cabinets of Everyday Curiosities’ that arose from the initial phase of Lorna’s residency.
As a way of introducing herself to the researchers, Lorna mounted an installation in the entrance foyer of UCD Conway Institute. The 'Cabinets of Everyday Curiosities’ housed displays of ordinary, everyday objects that spoke of the lives of people in Lorna’s life, placed without label or explanation.

These objects acted as storytelling devices.Researchers were invited to view the cabinets before being encouraged to install their own ‘everyday object’ in exchange for one of the artist’s. This process of mutual exchange continued until all objects belonged to the research community representing their daily lives in scientific research. This process sparked conversations between Donlon, scientists and patient advocates about research.

STEP Through the Looking Glass is an extension of this residency and brings new, transportable and modular ‘Cabinets of Everyday Curiosities’ into public settings around Ireland for display until the end of this year. These cabinets have been filled with objects in a collaboration between the artist, scientists working on COVID-19 related or clinical research and patients involved in cancer research at this biomedical research institute.

The objects were chosen after conversations with Lorna Donlon and the exhibition provides a window through which the public can glimpse the trappings and workings of the scientist’s world; to hear explanations on selected objects, the research that inspired it and the person behind the research.

A room with art exhibits
Professor Helen Roche, Director, UCD Conway Institute is one of the 12 scientists involved in the project. “It has been fascinating to work with Lorna on this project. Scientists and artists are inherently curious by nature but in very different ways. I started looking at objects lying around my office and lab in a whole new light.”

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) welcomed the launch, saying: “SFI is delighted to support this project, which sees everyday objects in science being used as storytelling devices. The exhibition will give the public a unique glimpse into the lives of the people behind the research as well as the research itself. Projects such as this, supported by the SFI Discover Programme, help us to provide important platforms and spaces for researchers and artists to come together, learn from each other and create new insights that can benefit society as a whole.”

The exhibition features large format photographs of the 12 scientists and 2 patient advocates and audiences can listen to the conversations between Donlon, the scientists and patient advocates who are involved with the Patient Voice in Cancer Research initiative.

The launch event featured Lorna Donlon in conversation with Dr Nicola Fletcher, Professors William Gallagher and Helen Roche with patient advocates, Tom Hope and Ciara McNamara.

The exhibition will run until 14 August in Grennan Mill and then at selected locations nationwide. Details of exhibition dates and locations as well as video and audio conversations with Lorna Donlon are on the exhibition website, https://stepartexhibition.com.

Funding is acknowledged from the Science Foundation Ireland Discover programme (ref 21/DP/9758) and the UCD Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund, which was financed jointly by University College Dublin and the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Biomedical Research Partnership (ref 204844/Z/16/Z).